Britain Insists It Would Be Proper for Russia to Sail Through the Territorial Waters of Rockall or the Falklands
Maybe it should get its wish
The British government keeps repeating that its military ship sailing within 12 nautical miles of Sevastopol was “innocent passage” and therefore permitted by conventions of the sea. It also claims that Sevastopol is part of Ukraine and that the ship was in Ukrainian, rather than Russian territory, which introduces the bizarre concept of “innocent passage” by a military (government) ship through contested waters where the ship’s owner disputes the controller’s ownership.
Surely to be “innocent” a passage can not come from a power that seeks to prejudice the ownership of the water against the coastal state. UNCLOS states:
Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.
What coastal state can in good order permit the passage of foreign military vessels through waters their government disputes its right to?
The equivalent would be Russia declaring it backs Ireland’s claim to Rockall or Argentina’s claim to the Falklands and then sailing its warships through their territorial waters. But since London insists that would be perfectly alright, Moscow should perhaps do it and see if Britain changes its tune afterward.
The British government keeps talking about an “international shipping lane,” but NATO ships have sailed from Odessa to Georgia before, but since 2014 only HMS Defender has done it by coming within 12 miles of Sevastopol. Because everyone else understands the spirit of UNCLOS is free passage for those who do not have designs against the coastal state —— where Britain doesn’t even recognize Russia is the coastal state in question here.
UNCLOS defines propaganda gestures as falling outside of innocent passage: “Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in… (d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State.”
You don’t get to load your ship full of reporters because you are going to sail within 12 miles of a historic fortress and key naval base of a power you are waging sanctions warfare against, and are in a military alliance against and claim innocence. You can’t plan to brag about a passage and then claim it was going to be “innocent”. “Innocent passage” is for ships concerned with getting from point A to point B, not for ships whose main mission is passing point C along the way.
Moreover, Crimea is a potential warzone with a Ukrainian-Russian skirmish already having taken place in 2018 in the Kerch Strait which ended with the capture of Ukrainian vessels and crews. Incidentally, during the Falklands War Britain declared an exclusion zone around the islands for military vessels of all nations. As has Russia for waters around Crimea (but Russia has been far more modest only declaring the exclusion zone inside Crimea’s territorial waters as opposed to half of Southern Atlantic as in Britain’s case), so what are we talking about here?
You could argue Crimea is not a warzone but when London itself says that the peninsula is under an illegal Russian military occupation that would seem to undermine the assertion there is peace.